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Posts Tagged ‘Referrals’

Happy 2-1-1 Day!

It’s February 11th and so we’d like to wish everyone at 211 centers all across North America a very happy 211 day!

In case you aren’t familiar with 211, I’ll tell you a bit about this truly amazing service. 211 is an easy-to-remember three digit number, but unlike 411 for directory assistance or 911 for life-threatening emergencies, the focus of 211 is to provide people with comprehensive information and referral to various human services in their communities. To get a feel for just how wide the scope of services 211 can refer you to, check out this super cute video from United Way 211 of Greater St. Louis.

Rather than spend hours of frustration calling around to various agencies, callers can make 211 their first call for assistance and speak to a trained specialist that can spend time evaluating their needs, educating them about resources, and then connect them with the appropriate services.

iCarol is delighted to work with so many 211 providers across the US and Canada whose organizations provide a vital service to their communities by connecting millions of people to essential services each year.

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Celebrating Information and Referral Day

final I&R Day logo

Beginning in 2011, when the Unites States Senate first recognized Information and Referral Services Day, November 16th was designated to raise public awareness and recognize the critical importance of the I&R field.

Every day thousands of people find the help they need quickly, conveniently and free of charge because of Information and Referral (I&R) services. I&R services come in all shapes and sizes, from crisis lines that provide their local community with a core set of human service referrals, to larger scale 2-1-1 centers providing comprehensive Information and Referral services to entire states or provinces covering many different topics and types of services.

Information and Referral is the art, science and practice of bringing people and services together and is an integral component of the health and human services sector. People in search of critical services such as shelter, financial assistance, food, jobs, or mental health support often do not know where to begin to get help, or they get overwhelmed trying to find what they need. I&R services recognize that when people in need are more easily connected to the services that will help them, thanks to knowledgeable I&R professionals, it reduces frustration and ensures that people reach the proper services quickly and efficiently.

The people who work these lines are consummate professionals who are often times like living, breathing encyclopedias; providing answers to questions ranging from, “Where can I get a free meal for my family” to “There’s a horse running loose in my neighborhood, who do I call?” We at iCarol are really honored to have so many Information and Referral services all across the world use our software to help provide these services to people who reach them via phone, chat, or text.

If you’d like to learn more about what iCarol does to support efficient referral management, check out this page of our website that goes over some of those features. You’re also welcome to join one of our regular webinars that focuses solely on our Information and Referral tools. We hope you’ll join us sometime to learn more.

Happy I & R Day, everyone, and kudos on the awesome work you do connecting people with the services they need!

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Resource sharing initiatives on the horizon

One of the major challenges that the Information and Referral industry is facing, is finding a way to reliably share currently isolated databases with partners in real-time. Often times in the same metropolitan area, you will have numerous human services agencies managing their own listing of community service providers to whom they may refer their clients for specialized services.

Just assembling such a database initially is a rather large undertaking, no matter how many such service providers you might be trying to track. But then keeping those records accurate and up-to-date is an ongoing, labor intensive endeavor.

Now imagine that effort being duplicated by 5, 10 or even 50 agencies, each of whom has an internal need to have such a referral database. The amount of time and resources that are being duplicated is significant.

So the I&R industry is responding with two different initiatives, both of which aim to make it easier for agencies to share their referral databases with each other, electronically and in real-time, without the need for everyone to be running the same software platform. In each case, the vision is that the agency modifies the software they are running to manage their referral database (which of course iCarol does quite well) to accommodate the developing standards. Once done, the software should be able to both make its own referral database available to partners and third parties, as well as receive such information from those entities.

From then on, an agency could reduce or eliminate the need for themselves to curate a referral database and instead could rely solely on their partners to provide such data. This gets even more interesting when you contemplate incorporating specialized referral databases by entities that target specific populations, like cancer patients, suicide prevention and so on. One could assemble, through these electronic partnerships, a network of very rich referral databases all curated by subject matter experts.

Both initiatives are at about the same early stage in their development, where needs are being collected and the specifications are in draft form. Code For America is sponsoring the Open Referral initiative, and the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) is sponsoring what they are initially calling “Linked Data”. It is still unclear exactly how they will be different, but based on the stated goals of each project, a good guess is that Open Referral will be targeting a lightweight, easy to understand and use specification that can be quickly adopted by software developers. The AIRS “Linked Data” project, on the other hand, will likely be a more complex and powerful specification that would meet the needs of their membership organizations, that follow a highly evolved and detailed set of standards.

Indeed, the prospect for the industry is thrilling, and iCarol is at the forefront of these efforts. We have senior representatives actively engaged in conferences, discussions and specification development. We’ll continue updating you on these efforts here on this blog, stay tuned for what promises to be an exciting ride.

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How Agency, Program, and Site structure displays

In iCarol, we offer a resource structure, or hierarchy, called Agency, Program, Site. If you’d like to learn more about this structure, you can download our guide about this information. The Agency – Program – Site hierarchy in iCarol follows the structure recommended by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) and is most often used by those agencies using the AIRS taxonomy. Using this structure, at the 3rd or 4th level, (the 4th level being programatsite), has an effect on which information is displayed when viewing agency and program records within iCarol.

An agency is a legally recognized organization that delivers services. (edit screen identified by a grey ribbon) The agency is the main location of the resource where the administrative functions occur, where the organization’s director is generally housed and where it is licensed for business. An agency may or may not deliver direct services from this location.

Sites are the physical locations (eg. branches) from which clients access services provided by an agency. (edit screen identified by blue ribbon) If only one locations exists, all information may be stored in the agency record. If multiple sites exist, then ALL information recommended for Site must be stored there, since those fields will be displayed instead of the agency version.

The display hierarchy is: Program-at-Site (if using) Site / Program (if using)/ Agency (if a piece of information exists at all three levels, Site info will display

A service/program record describes the types of assistance/service an agency delivers to its clients. (edit screen identified by green ribbon) If only one program exists for an agency, all information may be stored in the agency record for that resource.

Program-at-Site contains specific details about a program that are available at a site. (edit screen identified by beige ribbon)

It is helpful to understand what information from which type of record (agency, program, site or programatsite) will display so you can made educated decisions on what information to place in each record so that referrals given to your callers as an accurate as possible.

Our Support Team can provide you with an Excel document that shows what information will be displayed when viewing agency and program records. There are two tabs in the Excel document, one for those using the three level hierarchy (agency, program, site), and one for those using the 4 level hierarchy (agency, program, site, programatsite). If you’d like us to send you this document, please open a Case with support using the Case Management tool found in the Help section of your iCarol system.

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Calculating your resource database’s “complexity”

We mentioned recently that at this year’s AIRS conference a workshop called Resource Database Assembly: The Next Generation provided some inspiration in making a measurement available within iCarol that calculates the complexity of your resource database. We have now added this tool to iCarol.

Resource Complexity is a concept first suggested by several AIRS luminaries. By using approximations, it is used to calculate how complex your resource database is and how many hours per year it would take to manage them using the AIRS standards. For each Agency record, it gets 1 point for every Site record and 2 points for every Program record belonging to it. The Agencies are then grouped by their point score into the following categories:

Simple: 0-10 points
Moderate: 11-20 points
Difficult: 21-40 points
Complex: 41 points and higher

Once grouped and counted, you then assume an average number of hours per year for a trained worker to manage those resources, as follows:

Simple: 1-5 hours (average of 2.5 hours)
Moderate: 5-10 hours (average of 7.5 hours)
Difficult: 10-20 hours (average of 15 hours)
Complex: 20-40 hours (average of 30 hours)

With the total number of hours calculated to manage your entire database, you can then estimate how many Full Time Equivalent employees you may need to manage your database. There are 2,080 hours in a standard work year (40 hours per week for 52 weeks) but the hours available to an employee are usually less than that to account for vacation, sick days, training, meetings and other administrative work that will reduce their hours available to do resource database management.

Resource Complexity

To use this tool, simply navigate to Statistics and click on the Resources tab. The values for the assumptions of Resource Database Complexity described earlier obviously greatly affect the calculations. They have been in use by a major US 211 center since 2009, who claim they very accurately predict workload. Your own results may vary. If you would like this tool to allow you to modify these assumptions, you can contact our Support team using the Case Management tool found in the Help section of your iCarol system.

A large chunk of time spent managing records according to AIRS standards involves keeping those resources up-to-date. When records are regularly checked for accuracy and updated, you know your clients are receiving helpful, good information. This reduces the frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed experienced by those who may already be in crisis or an otherwise difficult situation. Even a database full of records rated as “simple” will take thousands of work hours to manage.

If you check your database’s complexity and feel overwhelmed at the number of hours it may take to keep your database in check, then it’s time to consider iCarol’s Automated Verification tool. With this upgrade you can seek out the resource records that need to be verified using the same search tools as you would to give referrals, with the additional tool of date parameters showing when the records were last verified. Next, automatically send an authorized worker of that agency or program an email asking them to review the information you have on file and make suggestions or updates. They’ll be given a peek at the information as it exists in your live database so they can make those suggestions. Finally, your Resource Manager can review this information and choose to accept what’s been submitted or make some of their own tweaks first, and then apply the update to the resource record. What might have taken weeks of phone tag to accomplish has been squashed down to a fraction of the time. To find out more about Automated Verification and how it can assist you with keeping your resources updated, sign in to your iCarol system and check out the video.

We hope you enjoy this new ability to view the complexity of the resources in your iCarol database and that it helps you analyze your staffing needs pertaining to keeping your Resource Database accurate and up-to-date.

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Resource search tips to get you great results

iCarol has many tools to use when searching for resources. Using these tools, call takers can fine tune their searches in order to find the most appropriate resources for your clients. Please read on to learn about these tools and how to use them.

Search Type

There are three search types in iCarol – Taxonomy, Resources and Keywords.

Resource Search Bar

Taxonomy refers to the AIRS Taxonomy, used by 211 agencies in Canada and the United States. This is a 7 level categorization hierarchy that is used to categorize human service agencies into over 9,000 categories.

Resources is used to search your resource database for the name of the agency or program.

Keywords refer to a categorization system that you can set up yourself. Placing your resources into categories can help your call takers narrow their searches quickly to find, for example, Domestic Violence resources or Individual Counseling resources.


There are several filters you can apply to your searches on top of the search type.

Search filters

Names should be used when you want to search by the name of the agency or program. Please note that searching Resources actually searches three different text fields in your resource records – Name, Alternate Name and Search hints. In this way, you can search for the Salvation Army by its official name, Salvation Army, its alternate name, Sally Ann, or a term that is placed in the search hints, perhaps the name of the building the agency is housed in, the Hope Center.

All fields can be used to search other text fields in the resource record besides Name, Alternate Name and Search hints, such as the Description field. This can be helpful if you are searching for a term that is not likely to be found in a name. For example, perhaps the client needs help obtaining diapers. It is very unlikely that there is a resource name in your database with the word diapers, but that word may appear in a Description field where the services the agency or program offers are outlined.

Specific field, with the associated drop-down menu, can be used to conduct a search in a very specific text field, such as address or eligibility.

Agencies, Programs, Sites or ProgramAtSite will appear for those using the three or four level resource hierarchy available in iCarol. In this way, the call taker can limit their searches to just certain record types. Best practices indicate that the majority of searches should be conducted at the program level.

Include Inactive and Include Active but do not refer refers to the status of the resource records. These filters can be used to search records of all statuses, not just the active resources.

Geographic Filters

These filters can be used to narrow searches by their proximity to the client or the coverage area the resource serves.

Geo filters

All resources means that no geographic filters will be applied to the search and all resources that meet the other filters indicated will be displayed

Resources within means that iCarol will search for resources that are physically located within the geographic area indicated by the country, state/province, county, city and postal/zip code filters entered. iCarol bases this search on the physical address entered into the resource record.

Resources serving means that iCarol will search the coverage area of each resource and return those that meet the geographic area indicated by the country, state/province, county, city and postal/zip code filters entered. iCarol bases this search on the coverage area field in the resource record.

Combining the filters above when conducting resource searches can result in a smaller, targeted list of results that is much more manageable for the call taker to look through. This saves time and increases the likelihood that the client receives the most appropriate resources to meet their needs.

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